Next Generation Salinas Union High School science teachers upset with program changes


“There are certain things that if you are good at you’ll be a success no matter what your background is and those things are sports, music…SCIENCE!”

—Jeffrey Nakamura, SUHSD Science Teacher

By Paul Karrer

Some concerned teachers at Salinas High School are banging their heads against the walls for what they feel is  the destruction of their science program.

It started with No Child Left Behind in 2001, which stated that all students needed to score at grade level by a certain year, and every year students needed to improve their standardized test scores. These requirements were statistically impossible. If a school wasn’t able to achieve either Herculean task, they had to fire the principal, reassign teachers or close schools — none of which helped kids.

Increasingly, non-educators imposed their regulatory whims on public education. Rarely were educators the initiators of these schemes, and there never was “accountability” for those who did the imposing.  No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top were the deep gut-punches to public education. The small bites were the never-ending new programs and profit-making intrusions, with names like “Positive Behavior Intervention” and “Constructing Meaning.”

The Ed Reform movement has had a negative impact on education. The direct attacks have demoralized teachers and encouraged educators to leave the field. Plus, funding has shifted to harmful testing and top-heavy districts with emphasis on compliance.

Rarely is there a meaningful study or investigation of the outcomes of all this “reform.”

What does this have to do with Salinas Union High School District?

In 2013, the state Board of Education adopted new curriculum called the Next Generation of Science Standards for public schools.  How these new standards were to be implemented was largely left up to individual school districts.

SUHSD administrators decided to go with integrated science, which means essentially that science courses are being modified from three years to two years, watered down in the name of integration. A larger amount of information is being required but with less time. “You take all the sciences, you pour them in a blender. You pour some in to the first year and some in the second year, and magically any science teacher is qualified to teach all of it,” said Jeffrey Nakamura, a science teacher at Salinas High school in the Salinas Union High School District.

To comply with the Next Generation program, 97 percent of schools in California went with what they had done in the past, or slightly modified their curriculum.  Only 3 percent chose to go integrated. And SUHSD is perhaps the only district that basically recreated its own program from scratch. It exists nowhere else.Some of the teachers say the result is a hodgepodge of teacher-created lessons, downloads from the internet and online simulations, without any real connection or flow.

Salinas Union High School District officials defend the changes, saying their New Generation Science Standards were adopted with guidance from teachers.

“As a teacher yourself, surely you know that these changes are not easy and you may also know that districts are required to adhere to the standards of the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing regarding subject authorizations. The SUHSD is following the CTC guidelines as it pertains to course changes and subject authorizations for teachers in the NGSS era,” Antonio Garcia, director of educational services, told me in an email statement.

The Salinas Union High School District’s science program had a solid reputation in the past. Science teachers taught classes in which they had college training. They were credentialed in and educated to teach specific subjects such as physics, chemistry or biology. In the new model, a chemistry teacher will be expected to teach physics and a biology teacher will be expected to teach astronomy. These teachers will try their best to do a good job, but their depth of knowledge will not be there.

This program will make SUHSD students unprepared for college and university. And it is uncertain if these courses will meet college entrance requirements. The University of California, for example, does not recognize first-year integrated science, though Salinas district administrators say they have a special waiver from the UC.

“The movement to integrated science is valid according to the State mandate of Next Generation Standards and the majority of teachers in the District agreed to the implementation of integrated science and it was Board adopted last Spring,” Garcia told me.

The decision to integrate science came from the district administration, and teachers who attended curriculum meetings say they were told they were not allowed to discuss alternatives. In other words, it was a done deal and the teachers were cut off at the knees.

District officials, however, say they included teachers in the revamping process.

“The SUHSD used a lengthy process, lead by teachers and guided by the changes in science standards, to implement a new course pathway for the Next Generation Science Standards. Surely, teachers will need additional professional development to gain confidence in the new standards and that process has been in place for a couple of years now,” Garcia told me..

On Oct. 4,, district administrators surveyed science teachers. The results are instructive:

  • 74 percent  of teachers do not think the new curriculum meets the instructional needs of English learners.
  • 66.6 percent do not believe it meets the needs of kids with disabilities.
  • 51.8 percent do not feel comfortable teaching physics standards.

The consequences of this new integrated approach are scary. Many students may lose life opportunities in the sciences in ways we cannot know. Parents already are planning to pull their kids from SUHSD because of the science change, according to some teachers. The most highly qualified teachers are disgruntled and many have their resumés out. Teacher morale is very low.  And when these teachers leave, replacements will be next to impossible to find when the SUHSD science curriculum is explained to potential candidates. When good teachers leave, it is the students who suffer.

Change simply for the sake of change is not the solution. The old way of teaching science may have had room for improvement — everything does —but it was essentially solid; students  learned and had a pathway into a university science program and then a science career.  Young people are not guinea pigs — please, SUHSD powers that be, don’t treat them as such.

District officials also acknowledge that this is a work in progress, and “as you may know, the State often changes standards and the textbook and curriculum developers lag behind in producing new instructional materials. Thus, teachers are developing curriculum to meet the standards until new adopted materials become available.”

Constant change for the sake of change can be subtractive. Sometimes it is best to leave things alone, if the status quo has already proven to be beneficial to students.

Letter: Integrated instruction waters down science

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.


Paul Karrer

About Paul Karrer

A retired elementary school teacher, Paul Karrer’s writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Monterey Herald.